The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

Images The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks is such an incredible book on so many levels it is hard to describe. 

It is a true story about one African American woman and the legacy that she has no idea she left behind.  At age 30, with a handful of young children, she found herself with cancer.  When she went to John Hopkins to see a doctor in the "colored" area of the hospital, the doctor proceeded to scrape some cells from her.  Those cells ended up becoming the first human cells that grew and lived in a culture.  Medically they are referred to as the HeLa cells.  Those cells have been duplicated countless times.  The HeLa cells have been involved in the development for the cure of polio, atom bomb's effects, in-vitro, cloning, genetic mapping and more. 

The other part of the story is the family behind these cells.  They had no idea that her cells were being used for medical purposes.  A poor family who couldn't even afford a doctor.  The author, Rebecca Skloot, provides the reader with the human interest side.  At the same time, she educates the Lacks family in exactly what has happened with their mother's cells.  They had no idea.  Learning about the legacy of her children and the different generations is fascinating in itself.  Henrietta's generation was poor and uneducated but full of soul grows in to the generation of grandchildren who go on to college and graduate school.

The other part of the story is the history of medical research.  What has happened over time, how experiments were conducted and the players in the game.  To me, what is fantastic is how Skloot writes.  She writes in layman's terms so that for someone, like myself, who has no ability to recall medical terms, she allowed me to take it all in and retain the information.  Written like a good novel.

The book is fascinating, heartbreaking, amazing and historical.  A must read.  Brilliant.

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